Different extraction efficiencies observed from synthetic cannabinoid analysis due to burning and matrix effects
Mowatt, Heather Gray
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Cannabinoids are compounds that are naturally present in Cannabis sativa L., which interact with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. The most abundant and well-known cannabinoid that can be isolated from cannabis is 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The structure of this compound specifically allows interaction with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, known as cannabimimetic activity. Other compounds have since been produced, inspired by THC, which have been designed to elicit similar pharmacological responses, and therefore are beneficial as analgesics. These compounds are known as synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids, while potentially useful as therapeutic treatments for pain, are currently also popular as recreational drugs. Herbal products that contain synthetic cannabinoids are sold as “legal highs,” as few of these compounds are illegal according to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These products are prepared by combining synthetic cannabinoids and plant material, and are smoked similar to marijuana. As the legality of many synthetic cannabinoids is quickly decreasing, as evidenced by the March 2011 emergency scheduling of five such compounds, it is becoming increasingly likely that these products will soon become popular exhibits to be submitted to controlled substances laboratories for testing. If a previously smoked product is submitted, there could potentially be effects due to the burning, the presence of the plant or paper substrate, and other synthetic cannabinoids that could directly diminish the facility of analysis. The aim of this thesis was to investigate these effects using four synthetic cannabinoids (AM-2201, JWH-015, HU-211, and RCS-4) and four substrates (tobacco, rolling paper, mint, and rosemary). Results demonstrated diminished peak areas, which are likely due to the introduction of these variables, which include burning the drug of abuse, and spiking the drug of abuse onto various matrices. The trend of lower peak areas further suggests that burning, the presence of plant material, and other cannabinoids potentially all compromise the facility of analyzing synthetic cannabinoid products. The act of burning one synthetic cannabinoid in particular, AM-2201, appeared to greatly decrease the capability to detect the analyte, as did the application of AM-2201 to various substrates. Furthermore, the ability to detect AM-2201 appeared to vary greatly between results obtained from analyzing samples applied to different substrates. Analysis of cannabinoid mixtures demonstrated that GC/MS analysis of different cannabinoids gave various peak areas although the concentrations remained consistent. Peak area ratios of cannabinoid mixtures that were extracted from substrates were found to not differ significantly between the specific substrates studied. This research supports that all of these variables should therefore be considered in regards to analysis of herbal products containing synthetic cannabinoids.